Your exposure to accessibility research depends very much on the sector you work in. UK central government departments and the digital agencies that work for them do a huge amount of this research. It wasn’t always the case, but the 2018 public sector websites accessibility regulations changed things overnight. The new law has real teeth and active monitoring by GDS, which the DDA and Equality Act never had.
The wider public sector
This sector doesn’t do so much research, but it does a lot of accessibility testing and remediation. There’s a huge legacy of existing websites, mobile apps and documents to fix first, and the culture and learnings will eventually feed into new developments.
Many of the largest companies like banks and supermarkets also do a lot of accessibility research, although it’s often undermined by corporate incompetence with one team undoing the good work done by another or failure to maintain the high standards that were achieved.
It’s the SME sector that’s the real problem and always has been. With very few exceptions, they are unaware of the issue, wouldn’t care anyway, don’t have the money, don’t see the benefits and (rightly) perceive the legal risk as negligible. In the daily struggle to survive, “doing the right thing” is nowhere on their radar.
Even in the organisations that do a lot of research, maintaining the standard over time is difficult. Budgets and people with the necessary skills are made available during the initial development projects and there are specific targets for accessibility. However, that often disappears when systems go into production, with nothing to prevent the subsequent creation of inaccessible web content and documents.
Don’t knock WCAG
WCAG conformance alone doesn’t make websites as accessible as they can be, but it’s an essential technical foundation and should be the starting point for all development teams. More advanced activities such as user research will be wasted if you don’t get the foundations right.